It’s time for the WWF Wrestling Classic What If Tournament, a revisiting of the WWF’s one-time pay-per-view that featured 16 WWF Superstars competing for “bragging rights.” This time around, things are much different as it includes stars from the WWF as well as stars from the American Wrestling Association (AWA), the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), and Japan. The “what if?” moment that sees Vince McMahon deciding to cooperate with other promotions could be anything from WrestleMania failing to Vince getting hit by a bus and someone else taking over. Feel free to insert your own theories into this one.
As mentioned last time around, 32 wrestlers will compete in a tournament to determine the winner. Let’s also up the stakes by stating that the winner of the match receives a Rolls Royce (much like one lucky fan who ordered the pay-per-view did) along with a title shot against the NWA, WWF, or AWA World Heavyweight Champion. The match also features a main event tag team match with “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “Nature Boy” Ric Flair teaming up to take on Magnum T.A. and WWF Champion Hulk Hogan. Hogan, who is scheduled to meet Flair at Starrcade ’85, will meet Flair in the ring for the first time.
And speaking of competitors, here are your 32 entrants! Keep in mind that these wrestlers are at the same point in their careers as they were in 1985, which means that while Harley Race is a seven-time world champion, he’s arguably not at the peak of his abilities (although no one to trifle with as anyone who watched him in 1985 will attest).
Nikolai Volkoff: The Soviet strongman is still teaming with the Iron Sheik, but he also can be found in singles matches where he uses his size and strength to dominate opponents. Volkoff’s ability to squeeze the life out of opponents with his bearhug makes him a feared opponent as does the ringside presence of manager “Classy” Freddie Blassie.
Antonio Inoki: Whether he’s battling his fellow Japanese wrestlers, taking on foreign opponents (ranging from Hulk Hogan to his wrestler vs. boxer match with Muhammad Ali), Inoki is a top-ranked international star and defeated Bob Backlund in 1979 for the WWF Championship when the champion was touring Japan. Unfortunately, Inoki’s reign was not recognized by the WWF.
The Magnificent Muraco: Don Muraco is coming off two Intercontinental Championship reigns in the WWF and is now aligned with his manager, the diabolical Mr. Fuji. Muraco’s feud with Ricky Steamboat is one of the hottest storylines on the WWF’s undercard and fans can only imagine what will happen if the two clash. Muraco’s reverse piledriver has won him many matches and would be used even more effectively by the Undertaker when he dubbed it “The Tombstone Piledriver.”
Tito Santana: Tito is enjoying his second reign as Intercontinental Champion and has never looked better. The popular babyface should go far in the tournament, but with the level of competition, it remains to be seen if he can win it all. Tito’s flying forearm can end a match in an instant and his recent addition of the figure four leglock to his arsenal makes him even more competitive.
Jerry Blackwell: The larger-than-life “Crusher” Blackwell is enjoying the fans cheers after years as a vicious heel. Nearly 500 pounds and only 5’9”, Blackwell’s agility is an amazing sight for anyone watching him in the ring (except perhaps his opponents).
Larry Zbyszko: It’s been five years, but Zbyszko is still reviled by fans for his feud with Bruno Sammartino and Zbyszko referring to himself as “The Living Legend” isn’t helping win any new fans. A cunning competitor, AWA star Zbyszko’s combination of technical skills and rulebreaking make him a threat to any opponent.
Tully Blanchard: Like Larry Zbyszko, Tully Blanchard knows how to wrestle but he also knows how to bend or break the rules. Blanchard’s willingness to win at all costs has been seen during his feud with JCP star Magnum T.A., including Tully employing his valet Baby Doll to assist him as needed.
Greg Gagne: One of several second-generation stars in the WWF Wrestling Classic What If Tournament, Greg Gagne is best-known for his work as a tag team competitor. However, he’s no stranger to singles competition and opponents underestimating him could find themselves counting the lights.
Bob Orton Jr.: One of the premier technical wrestlers in “The Sport of Kings,” “Cowboy” Bob seems to find it easier to work as a rulebreaker than a babyface. Although “Ace” Orton is best-known to the WWF’s fans as “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s bodyguard, his in-ring skills are second-to-none and his willingness to bludgeon opponents with the cast around his arm make him a double-threat.
Harley Race: Eight-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion Harley Race may not be at his physical peak, but he can still make a legitimate claim to being “The greatest wrestler on God’s green earth” with his experience and toughness making him a top contender in the tournament.
Jerry Lawler: While Jerry “The King” Lawler may seem like a big fish in a small pond, anyone familiar with Memphis wrestling knows that it is a gateway for some of the biggest names in wrestling. As such, Lawler has wrestled some of the biggest names in wrestling (and defeated them). Lawler’s willingness to cut corners even as a babyface make him a true wildcard in the tournament.
Jumbo Tsuruta: Standing 6’6,” Jumbo Tsuruta’s 1984 AWA World Heavyweight Championship win is just one of many accolades he’s received since jumping from the amateur ranks to the pros. Tsuruta is no stranger to wrestling American opponents, having competed in the United States and of course, battling them in All Japan Pro Wrestling.
The Junkyard Dog: It didn’t take the JYD to become one of the WWF’s most beloved stars following his jump from Bill Watts’ Mid-South Wrestling. JYD’s use of headbutts and his powerslam finisher have earned him many matches in Mid-South and now the WWF. Will they help him win this version of the Wrestling Classic as they did in the original?
Terry Funk: Former NWA World Heavyweight Champion Terry Funk has spent most of his current run in the WWF feuding with the Junkyard Dog while also finding time to challenge Hulk Hogan for the WWF Championship. Although Funk hasn’t eliminated the Dog from wrestling or captured Hogan’s title, it’s not from a lack of trying and his penchant for using his branding iron as a foreign object coupled with his combination of brawling and wrestling make him an opponent to stand clear of.
Nick Bockwinkel: Longtime AWA wrestler Nick Bockwinkel is coming off his third reign as AWA World Champion and looks ready to capture his fourth world title. Bockwinkel is no longer managed by Bobby “The Brain” Heenan but he’s proved more than capable without Heenan’s interference, er help. Some analysts might write Bockwinkel off as someone whose best days are behind him, but his track record shows he’s still a top contender wherever he wrestles.
Kerry Von Erich: World Class Championship Wrestling’s Kerry Von Erich is a member of that elite club of individuals who have held the NWA World Heavyweight Champio
nship, a sign of just how good wrestling’s “Modern Day Warrior” can be when he sets his mind to it. If Von Erich can stay focused, his discus punch and Von Erich Claw are all he needs to win.
Bob Backlund: It’s been nearly two years since Bob Backlund’s WWF Championship ended in controversy and since then, Backlund has worked around the world trying to get back on track. While he might seem out of place in the WWF, his strong amateur skills and dreaded chicken wing submission hold could take him all the way to the top, proving he’s still one of the world’s best. The chance to challenge Hulk Hogan for the WWF Champion many fans feel was stolen from Backlund could prove to be all he needs to will himself to victory.
Randy Savage: “Macho Man” Randy Savage has been lighting up the WWF with his incredible matches and equally incredible rudeness towards his manager, the lovely Elizabeth. Championship gold for Savage seems inevitable as fans wonder which belt he’ll capture first—the Intercontinental Championship or the WWF’s top prize. In the meantime, he may “settle” for the WWF Wrestling Classic What If Tournament and like the original, odds are he’ll go far.
Chris Adams: While “Gentleman” Chris Adams has been anything but a gentleman since turning heel in 1984. Adams has shown many times in World Class Championship Wrestling that his superkick can end a match in an instant and his skills in judo will come in handy against large and small opponents alike.
Hercules Hernandez: “The Mighty Hercules’” tremendous power has enabled him to conquer many an opponent but will he be able to prove supreme against big men like Crusher Blackwell, “Big” John Studd, and powerhouses like Nikita Koloff or “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff?
Nikita Koloff: Ivan Koloff’s nephew has learned from the best and quickly earned his nickname as “The Russian Nightmare.” Nikita is a relative newcomer to the ring but his power, ruthlessness, and coaching by Uncle Ivan have already led him to the NWA World Tag Team Championship. How Nikita fares in a singles tournament may surprise wrestling pundits curious about Nikita’s future. Nikita’s recent series against NWA World Champion Ric “Nature Boy” Flair shows he’s a fast learner.
Davey Boy Smith: Like British Bulldog partner the Dynamite Kid, Davey Boy’s career encompasses more than tag team wrestling, and anyone thinking Smith’s singles skills are limited will be in for a surprise. Smith is the type of wrestler who falls into the category of being the “pound for pound” equivalent of any competitor.
Wahoo McDaniel: Former New York Jet Wahoo McDaniel knows his wrestling career is winding down, which means the veteran grappler will be more dangerous than ever. McDaniel’s Tomahawk Chop is still capable of dispatching any opponent and McDaniel, like everyone on this list, should put on a strong showing.
King Kong Bundy: King Kong Bundy defeated “Special Delivery” Jones at WrestleMania in record time and the man who demands a five-count from referees hasn’t looked back, destroying opponents and making a terror-inducing tag-team with “Big” John Studd. Bundy’s size, girth, and surprising speed make him another big man to watch out for.
Ricky Steamboat: Ricky Steamboat’s 1985 jump from JCP to the WWF surprised many fans, but it didn’t take the talented babyface long to get over in his new home—or make
new enemies. Two-time Intercontinental Champion “The Magnificent” Muraco has been making Steamboat’s life miserable for the last few months, but that won’t stop “The Dragon” from aiming for a tournament win in the WWF Wrestling Classic What If Tournament.
Paul Orndorff: “Mr. Wonderful” still has a score to settle with “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, but the WWF’s combination muscleman and tough guy is more than willing to put his feud with “The Rowdy Scot” aside for one night to win the Wrestling Classic. Orndorff’s clothesline and piledriver make him a top pick from the WWF.
Dusty Rhodes: A two-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion, “The American Dream” is beloved by fans the world over but how will fans react if Rhodes wrestles a top WWF babyface? It may not matter as Dusty’s charisma and brawling skills could easily win matches and the fans.
John Studd: Somehow, “Big” John Studd has failed to win any championships in the WWF. Nonetheless, it’s near-impossible to get him off his feet and as manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan would tell you, Studd has never been slammed (perhaps hip-tossed). Studd’s size and power are all he needs to win matches.
The Dynamite Kid: The Dynamite Kid’s “British Bulldogs” team with Davey Boy Smith has quickly won over fans, but long before the Bulldogs were a team, Smith was a skilled high-flyer. His size may put him at a disadvantage but his speed could lead to more than one upset.
Kamala: Whether you call him “The Ugandan Giant” or “The Ugandan Headhunter,” Kamala is a vicious wrestler whose animal-like antics in the ring can make short work of any opponent. The biggest question here is whether Kamala’s handle Kim Chee can keep him from getting disqualified.
Sgt. Slaughter: Sgt. Slaughter’s incredible turn from hated heel to patriotic babyface is one of wrestling’s wildest success stories as Slaughter’s feud with the Iron Sheik in the WWF proved to be a box office smash. Slaughter’s time in JCP and his current run in the AWA means he’s familiar with many of the opponents in the tournament.
The Iron Sheik: A former WWF Champion and WWF Tag Team Champion, the Iron Sheik’s strength and mastery of suplexes (as well as his much-feared submission hold the Camel Clutch) have taken him far in his career (as has his alleged use of a loaded boot). Will they take him all the way to the finals?
The tournament’s four rounds will be held in a number of famous WWF arenas over a several nights. Who will become the winner of the WWF Wrestling Classic What If Tournament?
Check back next week to see round one’s brackets and the first four matches.